By Charles Littnan
Scientists from PIFSC’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, Duke University, and the Monk Seal Foundation are back in the field putting out the National Geographic Crittercams on Hawaiian monk seals to help us understand how and where the endangered monk seals forage and where their activity might overlap with other members of the ocean community. We started this deployment season on Kauai. As is usually the case on Kauai, the seals were difficult to find despite the heroic efforts of partners and volunteers scouring the beaches at all hours. Many nooks and crannies were searched and we didn’t find a good candidate until the proverbial 11th hour. Just moments before we called off our late afternoon surveillance of N. Larsens beach there was a chuff and a lone seal cruising down the beach. We were hoping it was RW02, a young male seal and one of the only camera candidates on the island. We waited patiently for the unknown seal to haul out and were relieved to see it was RW02! RW02 needed a little encouragement to haul out fully onto the sand so once again one of the team members had to galumph along the sand pretending to be another seal. RW02 didn’t hesitate a bit and started right over to his prospective playmate. RW02 moved up into the soft sand and the team was able to quickly capture, restrain and sedate him. After a short procedure RW02 was released and carrying a National Geographic Crittercam.
A large storm was on its way, which would make accessing many beaches difficult. So the team reluctantly packed up with a plan to return in a couple of days to recover the camera. Miraculously, or maybe it was just good planning, a small team returned to Kauai and working with staff on island quickly located RW02 and recovered the camera. There is footage on the camera (we are waiting to watch it) but for now we can share a map of RW02’s movements to date. We only deployed one camera but Kauai was a great success. We thank everyone that helps us with our work over there!